Anxiety may be described as a feeling of worry, unease, or apprehension. As with all human emotions, anxiety is to be expected and can be helpful. It is there to keep us alert and prepared. However, anxiety can be problematic when the feelings of worry are: a) Out of proportion to what is actually going on and, b) We feel unable to control our worry. A panic attack is the quick onset of intense fear and can include sweating, heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
I would encourage anyone with concerns about anxiety and/or panic attacks to speak to a physician or a mental health professional. In the meantime, here are some strategies to help cope with anxiety and panic:
- Abdominal Breathing – A key feature of relaxed breathing is the stomach rising and falling. This is in contrast to anxious breathing, where the chest is rising and falling and people are gasping for air. Place your hand on your abdomen and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth ten times. I encourage people to practice this several times a day.
- Grounding – A feature of panic is losing touch with reality. Thus, it is important to ‘ground’ yourself back into this time and place. Find a chair and place both feet firmly on the ground. Act as though you are trying to push through the floor. If possible, grab the arms of the air and hold on tightly. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on the feel of the chair and the floor, and remind yourself of the here and now.
- Five/Five/Five – Look around the room and notice five things that you See, Hear, and Feel (Touch). An example: “I see the clock, the pen, the wall, the window, and the coffee cup. I hear voices, cars passing by, the music, footsteps, and the clock ticking. I feel the ground beneath my feet, the chair at my hands, the shirt on my back, the watch on my wrist, and the phone on my lap.”
Practice these exercises a few times each day so that you will be familiar with them. You may choose to use all three or to select the one that works best for you. The good news is that anxiety is very manageable. With proper support and a good toolbox of techniques, worry is something that can be well-controlled.